HUNTINGTON BEACH — After an April 5 loss at Saddleback College left the Orange Coast baseball team 9-7 in Orange Empire Conference play, Pirates Coach John Altobelli decided it was time to make a point with his players.
Make that a power point.
Altobelli, in his 22nd season at the helm, broke out a 5-year-old power-point presentation made after the Pirates captured the 2009 state title. The visual compilation illustrated how that team came through great adversity, including the death of then-redshirt catcher Jourdan Watanabe, to claim the program's first state crown since 1980.
"After that video, we haven't lost a game, knock on wood," said Altobelli after his team won its sixth straight, 8-3, at Golden West on Thursday to earn a share of the program's fourth OEC title in 10 seasons.
Santa Ana rallied from two three-run deficits to win, 9-7, at Cypress College on Thursday to remain tied atop the standings with Orange Coast. But the Pirates (27-9, 14-7 in conference), by virtue of beating Santa Ana in two of three conference matchups, will earn the seeding advantage for the upcoming Southern California Regional playoffs.
OCC, ranked No. 2 in Southern California and No. 7 in one national poll, lost to Cypress in its conference opener and was 3-3 through six OEC games. But it lost consecutive conference games only once — immediately before the current winning streak — and closed by dominating its final six foes by a combined score of 59-9.
"We grinded it out," Altobelli said of the program's 18th conference championship. "We had to share it [with Santa Ana], but we're still champions, any way you slice it. And we'll take it."
The Pirates took control of a tight game with a six-run fifth inning Thursday to pull away from the Rustlers (15-21, 6-15).
Freshman left fielder Robert Longtree capped the rally with a two-out, bases-loaded triple that almost became an inside-the-park grand slam. Longtree appeared to slide past the tag on the relay from the center-field fence, but he was called out, as OCC settled for an 8-1 lead.
OCC sophomore starting pitcher Jacob Hill worked six solid innings, allowing six hits and one run to earn the victory and improve to 10-0.
Sophomore center fielder Cody Bruder and sophomore first baseman Chris Iriart each went two for four with a run scored, while sophomore shortstop Cody Nulph, sophomore designated hitter Justin Broussard and freshman third baseman Jake Thumm all had one hit and one run batted in to contribute to the visitors' nine-hit attack.
Freshman second baseman L. Grant Davis had a hit, while both sophomore right fielder Tommy Bell and sophomore catcher Daniel Delaney walked twice and scored a run.
"Every game is an absolute dogfight in this conference," said Hill, who moved ahead of his sophomore identical twin brother David for the team lead in wins after David improved to 9-1 on Tuesday. "We never lost three [conference games] in a row and that's something that [Altobelli] preached to us. We never got on too big of a skid and we always came back [and won]. We were always competing."
Jacob Hill, who had help from relievers Art Vidro, Dominic Purpura and Spencer Moran, said he was thankful to not be on the mound for the celebratory postgame dog pile.
"To be honest, that kind of stuff scares me," Jacob Hill said. "But it was a lot of fun."
Altobelli said no one was harmed in the forming of said dog pile, and noted that he relished the title that prompted his players to participate.
"I'd say [the dog pile] was mediocre," Altobelli said. "It started a little slowly, but then they finally got somebody down [to the grass near the mound, where the pile gained mass]. I told the guys that was hopefully a pre-rep to Fresno [site of the four-team state championship tournament on May 24-26]. We don't practice that."
To make it to Fresno City College, OCC will have to win three straight best-of-three playoff series the next three weekends, almost certainly all at home.
Orange Empire Conference
Orange Coast 8, Golden West 3
SCORE BY INNINGS
OCC 010 160 000 – 8 9 2
GWC 001 000 020 – 3 10 1
J. Hill, Vidro (7), Purpura (8), Moran (9) and Delaney; Terrazas, Stevens (5), Hellman (6), McGrath (8) and Yazdanbakhsh. W – J. Hill (10-0). L – Terrazas, 2-4. 2B – Broussard (OCC), Daymude (GWC), Lucio (GWC) 2, Bruder (OCC), Nulf (OCC) . 3B – Stea (GWC), Longtree (OCC).